WASHINGTON, April 8: Eager to tout improved relations with Libya for abandoning its weapons programmes, the White House omitted the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing from the list of terrorist attacks cited on Thursday by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, angering victims' families.

Dan Cohen of New Jersey, whose 20-year-old daughter, Theodora, died in the bombing, said Ms Rice's omission made him feel "sick". "This was the largest terrorist attack against American citizens prior to 9/11 and they're pretending it didn't happen," said Mr Cohen. "It's bad enough when you lose a child and then to have this whole thing swept away," he said.

Condoleezza Rice omitted Lockerbie from a chronology of major acts of terrorism against Americans over the last two decades. Stephanie Bernstein of Maryland, whose husband Michael died at the age of 36, said it was "disgusting (and) despicable" that Ms Rice made no mention of the Lockerbie bombing while praising Libya for giving up its nuclear weapons programmes.

"I think the Bush administration has a lot to answer for," she said. Victims' families said the White House intentionally omitted Lockerbie from Rice's speech in order not to upset US-Libyan relations and detract from what the administration sees as its biggest post-Iraq foreign policy success.

The White House insists that the invasion of Iraq played an important part in Libya's decision to disarm and has been steadily increasing ties with its leader, Muammar Qadhafi, once condemned by former president Ronald Reagan as the "mad dog of the Middle East". Administration officials had no immediate comment on their rationale for leaving Lockerbie out of the address.

WMD AND LOCKERBIE: Tripoli announced in December it would abandon efforts to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in a bid to further mend ties with the West after agreeing to pay damages for the 1988 airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland.

A Libyan secret agent was jailed in Jan 2001 for life for the bombing, which killed 270 people. MS Rice, in her testimony, chronicled major terrorist attacks before Sept 11, 2001.

"The terrorist threat to our nation did not emerge on Sept 11, 2001. ... The attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983; the hijacking of the Achille Lauro in 1985; the rise of Al Qaeda and the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993; the attacks on American installations in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and 1996; the East Africa embassy bombings of 1998; the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 - these and other atrocities were part of a sustained, systematic campaign to spread devastation and chaos and to murder innocent Americans," Ms Rice said.

Her only direct mention of Libya came in the form of praise. "Because we acted in Iraq, Saddam Hussein will never again use weapons of mass destruction against his people or his neighbours. And we have convinced Libya to give up all its WMD-related programmes and materials," she said.

Bernstein accused the administration of bowing to pressure from business interests eager to return to the Libyan oil fields. "This shows that they are willing to let Qadhafi buy his way out of jail," she said. "The energy interests have really triumphed."

The Bush administration has started easing some of the economic sanctions against Libya. The OPEC member produces about 1.4 million barrels of oil daily and US oil firms are eager to invest there. -Reuters

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